Putin Recognizes Crimea Independence

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MOSCOW - Russian President Putin signs decree recognizing Crimea as `sovereign and independent country' Monday.

Residents in Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum on Sunday. After the polls closed, crowds erupted with jubilant chants in the city's main square amid fireworks and fluttering Russian flags.

Ukraine's new government in Kiev calls the referendum a "circus" directed at gunpoint by Moscow.

The United States and Europe are condemning the referendum as illegal and destabilizing.

European Union foreign ministers have slapped travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people they have linked to the push for the secession and possible annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging all parties to refrain from violence "and those with influence to avoid any steps that could further increase tensions."

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